Palm Beach County declares state of emergency


With super powerful Hurricane Irma churning its way toward Florida, Palm Beach County has declared a state of emergency, effective at midnight, County Mayor Paulette Burdick said Tuesday evening.

No evacuations have been ordered in the county, one of a number of South Florida locations where Irma could make landfall this weekend.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker said residents who plan to evacuate should do so “sooner rather than later” to “avoid getting stranded on the highway.”

The county’s 6,000 employees are all considered essential employees and there is no plan to have them stop working before the end of the work week, Baker said, adding that she has no authority to direct other employers to let their workers leave early so that they can begin evacuating in advance of a potential landfall.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Irma was a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour – a far more powerful storm than Harvey, which lingered over Greater Houston and brought devastating flooding to that area. Irma is one of the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricanes on record.

Still, Baker said not everyone in the county will need to evacuate.

“Evacuations are based on storm surge, not on wind speed,” she said.

Residents who do not live along the coast and those who don’t live near Lake Okeechobee “do not necessarily need to evacuate.”

The county does anticipate operating shelters, including a special needs shelter for which residents must pre-register.

Special needs residents can pre-register at http://www.pbcgov.com or by calling 561-712-6400.

Baker urged residents to continue monitoring Irma and obtain enough supplies to last for five to seven days.

It pays to manage a city or a county

Lantana Town Manager Deborah Manzo

When Palm Beach County commissioners recently contemplated extending the contract of County Administrator Verdenia Baker, they had at their disposal a salary survey to show where her pay would slot among peers in different parts of the state.

One consideration, in general terms, is this: the bigger the population of residents, the more responsibility for the county or city manager and, thus, the more loot they should be paid.

Baker’s salary is $273,183 per year – less than her fellow administrator in Broward, which has a larger population than Palm Beach County, and more than fellow administrators in Orange, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, all of which have smaller populations than Palm Beach County.

But the salary survey didn’t just include county administrator pay. It showed how much some city managers rake in, as well.

Turns out, they rake in quite a bit, regardless of the size of the populations they serve.

Take, for example, Fort Lauderdale’s city manager, who, according the survey, pulls in a hefty $238,222 per year, despite the fact that the city only has 176,013 residents. Miami’s city manager makes $224,663 while the city’s population stands at 417,650.

But those are famous, large cities with complicated challenges, right?

Miramar’s city manager brings in a cool $199,000 overseeing services to a city of 130,288, according to the county survey. Pembroke Pines, with a population of 166,611, pays its city manager $274,996.

No administrators or managers, however, are making out quite as well on the pay-per-population scale as Lantana’s town manager and Palm Beach Gardens’ city manager.

Lantana’s town manager makes $131,586 overseeing services to a town of 10,737 residents. And Palm Beach Gardens’ city manager makes $225,835 to oversee services to 52,923 residents, the survey shows.

That’s more than the $224,789 West Palm Beach pays its city manager. West Palm Beach’s population is 102,436, nearly twice that of Palm Beach Gardens.

County picks Texas firm to oversee sales tax projects

A Dallas-based firm with offices in Palm Beach Gardens has been selected as the project manager for the vast array of projects that will be paid for with money from the sales tax increase voters approved in November.

Jacobs Project Management beat out two other firms for the right to track and report the sales tax projects and provide information to the citizens oversight committee, a county-approved body that will monitor sales tax expenditures.

Commissioners ratified Jacobs’ selection Tuesday, authorizing County Administrator Verdenia Baker to begin negotiating a consulting fee with Jacobs.

That fee could be substantial, as the county expects its portion of the sales tax increase to be about $810 million over the next decade for upgrades to parks, roads, bridges and county-owned buildings.

Commissioners, with input from county staff members, will retain final say over which firms will be selected to undertake the sales tax work.

Jacobs will provide project updates to the oversight committee and to county staff.

sales-tax-pic

Administrator: Palm Beach County on the rise; extra penny will help

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Baker in 2016 talk (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker started her “State of the County” update Wednesday to a business group by talking about pennies.

“Thank you for your support to reinvest in our community,” Baker said at a breakfast meeting for the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce. She referred to the 1-cent sales tax surcharge voters approved in November. The county, the school board and municipalities will split the money, which mostly will repair and improve roads and buildings.

Now some eight years removed from the real estate crash and recession, Palm Beach County continues on the rise, Baker said.

The county has added 11,500 jobs, its unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, and it is “experiencing a healthier economy with tourism, agriculture, biotech and transportation continuing to be vibrant aspects of what makes the county a great place to live, work and play,” she said.

And, she said, “We are also enjoying record-setting tourism and a robust real estate market. Property values and home sales are up, while foreclosures and interest rates are low.”

To read more, go later to mypalmbeachpost.com.

Palm Beach County Attorney: lifeguard benefits fight must go back to bargaining

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A Palm Beach County Commission package of improved pay and benefits for lifeguards, which failed Tuesday in a 3-3 tie, won’t come back to the commission, at least not right away, County Attorney Denise Nieman has told commissioners.

Because the commission was voting on a collective bargaining agreement, it can’t just bring the issue back at its next meeting, Nieman said Friday in an email. Instead, she said, state law requires that the issue go back to County Administrator Verdenia Baker for a new round of bargaining.

“To be clear, this item is not to be resurrected by a Commissioner at the next or any future meeting,” Nieman wrote. “Instead, it’s back to the negotiating table it goes.”

The sweeping agreement, reached in November, and ratified by lifeguards, would provide several employee benefits changes that lifeguards have sought for years. The biggest was that the county would have agreed to approve all applications by lifeguards to the state for “special risk” status, which would nearly double the amount of their Florida Retirement System pensions and would allow them to retire earlier.

To read more, go later to mypalmbeachpost.com.

 

Palm Beach County picks new community services director

Green
Green

Palm Beach County’s new Department of Community Services director is James Green, who’s been outreach and community programing division director for the county government’s Youth Services of Palm Beach County since 2015. Before that, Green had been program director for the county’s Community Action Agency for six years.

At their meeting Tuesday, county commissioners ratified County Administrator Verdenia Baker’s designation of Green.  The Royal Palm Beach resident starts his new position Monday. He said his pay will go from $77,935 to around $114,000. He replaces Chanell Wilkins, who resigned in August.

 

Oct. 25 Palm Beach County Commission Workshop called off

Untitled-1Next week’s Palm Beach County Commission’s workshop is canceled, Administrator Verdenia Baker announced at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

Baker said the only item on the Oct. 25 workshop’s agenda, a new master plan for the county’s Youth Services Department, needs some more work and will be folded into the next workshop, set for Jan. 24.

County scaling back emergency operations after near miss

Palm Beach County, breathing a collective sigh of relief, is scaling back emergency operations after its brush with Hurricane Matthew caused minimal damage.

“It’s been busy,” County Mayor Mary Lou Berger said during a press conference Friday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “It’s been interesting. It’s been annoying. It’s been exciting. But we have gotten through this.”

All evacuees can return, and the county is under no warnings or other advisories, County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.

An assessment found no damage to county structures or assets. About 38,750 people in the county lost power. FPL said it expects to restore power to all customers by Saturday.

Power outages or internal malfunctions have knocked out 20 to 30 traffic signals. The county urges residents to treat intersections with non-working traffic signals as a four-way stop.

Intracoastal bridges remain closed to boat traffic but are open to motorists.

Some 7,560 people sought refuge from Hurricane Matthew at the county’s 13 shelters, with 184 people staying at the special needs shelter at the South Florida Fairgrounds.

The pet-friendly shelter at West Boynton Recreation Center reached full capacity, with 245 people and 200 animals.

County staffers fielded 5,289 calls from residents who had questions about everything from warnings to road closures.

The Emergency Operation Center, where some county staff have stayed overnight monitoring the storm, will scale back its operations at 5 p.m. but will remain at an elevated level of readiness until Saturday afternoon or longer if needed.

County officials were ready for questions about whether they acted too aggressively given the muted impacts of the storm.

Baker said she would not change the county’s actions and warnings. Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson agreed.

“If folks have doubts whether we made the right decision, they just need to look up the coast a little and see what damage the storm is doing,” Johnson said.

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

 

Sept. 20 Palm Beach County Commission workshop called off

palm-beach-county-logoThe Palm Beach County Commission’s Sept. 20 workshop is canceled, County Administrator Verdenia Baker told commissioners Tuesday.

Baker cited a lack of agenda items.

The move means the last four workshops haven’t happened. Workshops for May 24, July 14 and Aug. 23 also were called off, also for lack of agenda items. The last workshop was April 26.

The commission schedules workshops around once a month.

Bonlarron to offer his two cents on one-cent sales tax hike

Politicians conduct listening tours. Over the next month, Assistant Palm Beach County Administrator Todd Bonlarron is heading up a talking tour.

Bonlarron, tapped by County Administrator Verdenia Baker to lead the county’s effort to educate voters on the proposed sales tax increase, is coming to a library near you.

He won’t just be talking sales tax, though. A flier from the county’s library system notes that Bonlarron will discuss ballot initiatives dealing with the homestead tax exemption, solar power and medical marijuana.

State law forbids Bonlarron or any other county official from making overt political arguments, but there is no law against telling voters how the county plans to spend its portion of the roughly $2.7 billion the sales tax increase is expected to generate over the next 10 years.

Bonlarron is scheduled to hit two library branches on Thursday – the Jupiter Branch at 2 p.m. and The Acreage branch at 6:30 p.m. He’ll be at the Lantana Road branch at 3 p.m. on Friday, and he’ll resume the tour on Wednesday with a 1 p.m. stop at the West Boynton Branch.

Voters are encouraged to pre-register and can visit the system’s web site to find out when Bonlarron is scheduled to visit a branch in their area.

Bonlarron
Bonlarron